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This review is taken from PN Review 42, Volume 11 Number 4, March - April 1985.

THE NATURE OF DARKNESS Erich Heller, In the Age of Prose (Cambridge University Press) £20, £7.50 pb.

This latest installment of Erich Heller's lifelong meditations on German literature and philosophy is marked throughout by his inimitable grace and cultivation, and by if anything a broader range of reference than he demonstrated in The Disinherited Mind (1952), Thomas Mann, The Ironic German (1958), The Artist's Journey Into the Interior (1965) and Kafka (1974). His singular interpretation of modern German literary culture over the past three decades has been hugely illuminating for the English-speaking world (and for Germans: see J. P. Stern's contribution to the Heller Festschrift, Heidelberg, 1976). Beyond that, he has provided a reading - almost a vision - of modern literature which, once encountered, must take a place in any reader's mind as a permanent source of clarifying stimulation in agreement and dissent.

'Literary and philosophical essays' says the subtitle, and the subjects are, as ever, Rilke, Nietzsche and Thomas Mann; also Karl Kraus, Freud, Theodor Fontane, Knut Hamsun and Wilhelm Busch. But the collection doesn't permit of division in terms of a literary or philosophical approach. Just as he is a bridge-builder between German and Anglo-Saxon cultures, so he continues to mediate between separate fields of study by making philosophy uncondescendingly accessible to non-philosophers. What Heller has done before for Wittgenstein and Nietzsche, he does here for Heidegger in the essay 'Thinking about Poetry', and one hopes that his unaccountably omitted article on Schopenhauer (TLS, 10 October 1975) will be included in a future edition.

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